With SXSW Music officially kicking off today, we’ve thrown together an alphabetical guide for which acts to check out. The complete list of artists playing this year is available here, but odds are you don’t have time to sift through hundreds of acts in a few short days, so we have you covered!
We have chosen an artist from each letter of the alphabet, as well as a few other suggestions to help plan your week. Enjoy!
The 4onthefloor – “On Tuesdays” (Minneapolis, MN)
Fittingly kicking off this alphabetical rundown is a booze-soaked bar-room anthem about not letting which day of the week the calendar happens to show prevent you from tossing a few back. “I’m drunk on Tuesdays. I’m drunk on Wednesday, too” may sound a little sophomoric on the surface, but one spin through this jam will have you heading straight for the fridge.
Amine – “Caroline” (Portland, OR)
Very few (if any) artists featured on the SXSW lineup can boast a song with north of 150 million plays, but this Pacific Northwest rapper can make such a claim with this out of left field hit. “Caroline” may have nearly hit the Billboard Top Ten, but Amine’s name isn’t a household one just yet.
See also: Alex Lahey, Acid Dad, Anna Meredith, Au/Ra, Autre Ne Veut
The Band Of Heathens – “Hurricane” (Austin, TX)
I fully expected going into this to feature Philadelphia punk band Beach Slang here – a band whose two most recent albums have really resonated with fans and critics alike – but “Hurricane” by hometown revivalists Band Of Heathens really knocked me on my ass. I have only been to New Orleans two times, and I don’t have any personal connection to the city, but songs about the city’s resilience In the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster always trigger me emotionally. If Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927” gives you goosebumps, then “Hurricane” will hit you just the same.
See also: Baskery, Beach Slang, Big Thief
Chastity Belt – “Joke” (Seattle, WA)
Anyone familiar with Seattle radio station KEXP and their excellent music-only podcast “Music That Matters” is likely well-versed in Chastity Belt and their shimmery, yet languid dream pop constructions. Their songs are cheeky, playful, but always with an unsettling undertone about them. “Joke” was one of my favorite songs of 2015. This is a band I would highly recommend checking out.
See also: Calliope Musicals
Diet Cig – “Harvard” – (New Paltz, NY)
I can’t think of a line I’ve enjoyed singing alone in my car in the last two years than “FUCK YOUR IVY LEAGUE SWEATERRRRR!!!” like lead singer Alex Luciano exalts as “Harvard” draws to a close. There’s a bitterness running beneath this song that manages to emerge as a charming and humorous quality – the singer recognizes her own shortcomings as a girlfriend, but is utterly unwilling to apologize for anything.
See also: Dams Of The West, Deep Sea Diver, Danny Golden, Dat Boi T, Dem Yup
ELEL – “40 Watt” (Nashville, TV)
Consider this your regularly scheduled reminder that Nashville ain’t all banjos, fiddles, and whatever the hell Keith Urban is trying to do these days. ELEL sounds like they could be from just about anywhere in the world.
Fat Tony – “BKNY” (Houston, TX)
The borough of Brooklyn has enough hip hop native sons to fill a phone book, and almost everyone has at least one lovesong to their neighborhood buried somewhere in their discography. Never has an outsider penned an ode as good as this. Fat Tony brings a hazy Southern sound that pairs perfectly with the spirit of 1988, as if the Geto Boys and Slick Rick joined forces way back when.
See also: Flasher, Forth Wanderers, Frontier Folk Nebraska
Girlpool – “Before The World Was Big” (Los Angeles, CA)
Girlpool’s 2015 breakout album Before The World Was Big possesses a sense of wonderment that is usually reserved for children’s books and fairy tales. The album has sonic qualities that at times seem at odds with the power the songs are able to evoke. The entire record is devoid of percussion, as well as any trace of instrumental virtuosity, which places it squarely in the K Records tradition of elemental twee pop. The title track will return you to a time where things made more sense.
See also: Gold, Grrr
Hippo Campus – “Suicide Saturday” – Woodbury, MN
Through some sporadically released singles and a 2015 EP that generated something approaching a national buzz, this midwestern quartet seems poised for a breakout with this year’s upcoming full length debut. Hippo Campus’ sound conjures memories of My Morning Jacket’s spaciousness and the Local Natives’ soaring melodies.
See also: Har Mar Superstar, Hoops, Hurray For The Riff Raff
Idle Bloom – “No Body/No Control” – Nashville, TN
Another Nashville entry on the list, which further underscores the town’s sonic diversity. “No Body/No Control” features lo fi vocals and what the group’s Bandcamp page refers to as “guitarmonies”. How very 90’s!
Jay Som – “1 Billion Dogs” – Oakland, CA
As badly as I want to, it’s very difficult to shy away from comparisons of this artist to 2016 indie breakout star Mitski. While Jay Som’s music is far from breezy, it veers closer into warmer guitar pop waters than Mitski’s Puberty 2. However, if “1 Billion Dogs” is any indication of what is to come in 2017, there might be fuzz rock gold in store.
See also: Jackal Onassis, J-Me, Jade Bird, Justin McLean
Kaiydo – “Fruit Punch” – Orlando, FL
This year’s festival is loaded with really talented hip hop gems like this one. The recent Migos/Makonnen controversy has cast an uncomfortable light on hip hop’s place in the social spectrum, but tracks like “Fruit Punch” are a reminder of what an uplifting factor music can play in our lives.
See also – KP Tha Profit
LVL UP – “Hidden Driver” – Brooklyn, NY
Let’s get the fact that this song sounds like a lost track from Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea out of the way. I’m sure some listeners will find that fact too distracting to dig further into this band’s catalog, but in my view that would be a mistake. Jeff Mangum has deprived me of this sound since 1997, so I will take it in any incarnation I can get.
See also” LAYNE, Lane Mack, Linying, Lovespeake
Minus The Bear – “Absinthe Party At The Fly Honey Warehouse” – Seattle, WA
A long time ago, in a little town called Boston, where I attended college, my roommate introduced me to this band. I probably saw them live four times in college alone, so while I can’t really attest to their latter-day material, I can assure you that they will play this song live, and that you won’t want to miss it.
See also: Mail The Horse, Malcolm London, Maggie Rogers, Mal Blum, Marisa Anderson, Meatbodies, Merchandise, Mothers
NE-HI – “Stay Young” – Chicago, IL
I assume the name is pronounced “Knee High”? Either way, this song is great. Like labelmates Twin Peaks, their unpolished brand of rock maintains a level of twangy-ness and soul that harken back to classic rock of the 60’s and 70’s. Simple, unpretentious, and fun.
Open Mike Eagle – “Admitting The Endorphin Addiction” – Chicago, IL
Even if you are in tune with the latest and greatest in hip hop, there’s a good chance this dude has slipped under your radar. His conversational, comedic style recalls laid back west coast old school in the vein of Freestyle Fellowship, laced with smooth jazz/funk hooks. If you move forward a decade, you can trace his flow to underground mainstays like Living Legends and Murs.
See also: Ovolve
Priests – “Nothing Feels Natural” – Washington, DC
This is the band probably entering SXSW with the most buzz, with a lot of critics dubbing them the second coming of Savages. Given its status as our nation’s capitol, D.C. maintains a long tradition of boasting the most politically outspoken musical acts, and Priests find themselves carrying the torch lit decades ago at the dawn of the hardcore era by Ian MacKaye and Dischord Records. Aside from the obvious Savages comparisons are traces of modern post punk acts like Ought or Protomartyr.
See also: PAWS
Slim pickings here. If you know of a band that should be on our radar, or of a secret Queens of the Stone Age show… please fill us in.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – “Clean Slate” – Melbourne, AUS
In my humble opinion, the best band playing at SXSW this year. After hearing last year’s EP Talk Tight, I told just about everyone I thought would care about this band, but I always got the sequence of the four words in the band’s name mixed up. There is nothing confusing about what makes these songs great, though: they don’t take long to get revved up, and they never let up, like the The Feelies without the nervousness.
Sad13 – “<2” – Philadelphia, PA
Sadie Dupuis rose to relative prominence in 2013 as the lead singer of Speedy Ortiz, a band that felt like the universe was trying to force me to love, only I could never quite get there. I like her solo project quite a bit more, since it feels less like a 90’s nostalgia act and more of its time with synthesized grooves and a feminist bent that feels especially urgent given the current environment. Sadie’s lyrics don’t allow you to listen to her songs passively – just try to listen to the first chorus of “Hype” without doing a double take.
See also: San Fermin, Scott H Biram, Spoon
Tei Shi – “Bassically” – Vancouver, BC
The concept of the “break” is one of the most powerful weapons that electronic music can deploy: the gradual build up of energy, like water waiting to break through a dam, that is finally released, unleashing the pent up emotion and harnessed joy from within the listener. Tei Shi operates under a similar model, only without the pinpoint break, stretching out the euphoria for five breathtaking minutes.
Ugly Beats – “Motor” – Austin, TX
Certain songs were made for the road, and hometown rockers The Ugly Beats have them in heavy supply. Organ based jams like “Motor” will bring Austin old timers back to the days of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators (if you live in Austin and haven’t heard of this band, get on that!) While this band is deeply steeped in 60’s psych/garage music, there are more recent analogues, including Jason Pierce bands like Spaceman 3 and Spiritualized.
Vaya Futuro – “201 – Tijuana, MX
It’s hardly a secret that Mexico has a strong affinity for Morrissey. Vaya Futuro, from just over the border in Tijuana, appear to share that same passion, only somewhere along the way they must have gotten their hands on some Can and NEU! records, too.
Weaves – “One More” – Toronto, ON
This Canadian quartet can vary from ramshackle garage rock methods to early 80’s Talking Heads styles reminiscent of the Talking Heads (the opening track to last year’s self titled record is evidence of this).
XXX – “Flight Attendant” – Seoul, SOUTH KOREA
Can I interest you in some Korean hip hop? This is a country known for excessively packaged pop stars (I’m talking about K-Pop, not Psy) that are so immensely popular domestically that they do not need to leave the peninsula, but XXX provides proof of burgeoning scenes with more in common with their American counterparts.
Yawpers – “American Man” – Denver, CO
Though they hail from Colorado, Yawper’s blend of country and Americana finds its roots in Texas, where lead vocalist/guitarist Nate Cook grew up. The guitars are sturdy, and there are plenty of songs about drinking. The part where the drums kick in on “American Man” will really rope you in.
Zona Tango – Acid Milonga – Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA
Again, not a very robust list in the Z category, so I’m going international with this one. Zona Tango are very much in the Argentine tango tradition, only with a bit of a dance-y beat to it.